A camping site in Majorca. | R.D.

When the National Statistics Institute pumps out its figures for tourist accommodation occupancy, it distinguishes between hotels and what is defined as the “extra-hotel” sector. This comprises the likes of tourist apartments, which are nothing to do with holiday rentals, bear some similarity to the “aparthotels” and are given key ratings rather than stars. The “extra” offer also comprises rural tourism, hostels and camping.

When holidaymaking restarted in June, 352,643 holidaymakers in Spain opted for camping. This figure was vastly greater than the number for tourist apartments and rural establishments combined (226,644) and was second only to holidaymakers who had opted for regular hotels. Camping, it was said, offered contact with nature and social distancing - total safety at an affordable price.

Three years ago, the Balearic government partially reformed the 2012 tourism law. The main reason for this reform was to include the updated holiday rentals regulation. An additional reason was to establish (or rather reaffirm) the principles for capping the total of tourist accommodation places. This limit, now presented as a mechanism conceived by a left-wing government, had in principle been established by the two general tourism laws passed in the Balearics - 1999 and 2012, and both by a right-wing Partido Popular government.

At the time of the reform in 2017, it was felt that this offered the opportunity to allow the opening of more campsites. The opportunity was not taken. In Minorca, there had been particular interest. The then tourism councillor at the Council of Minorca and now the Council’s president, Susana Mora, said that there were three projects hoping to be given the green light by legislative reform. She was left to concede that the government, politically akin to her administration at the Council, made the situation “unfavourable” to camping promoters.

Mora explained that the Council was not itself closing the door to more camping. From a tourism point of view, camping was “interesting” because there was demand and because camping attracts “other types of tourist”. However, there were two obstacles. One was the Council’s own territorial plan, for which consideration had to be given to what was to be the firm establishment of tourist accommodation places. The other was that the reformed law, like the main law in 2012, did not specify islands’ responsibilities for regulating camping. In other words, there was not legislative scope for islands to permit more than there already was. The 2017 tourism reform was a legislative dead end.

It was being pointed out three years ago that there were 1,039 accommodation places at Minorca’s two camping facilities, the larger of which (Son Bou) had 939 places and was (still is of course) a typical mixture of wooden chalets, furnished tents and spaces to pitch tents.

One mentions Minorca (and could also mention Ibiza) because there is no comparable facility in Majorca. When the National Statistics Institute is drawing up its “extra-hotel” figures, it can count tourist apartments, rural tourism and hostels in Majorca, but for camping there is a blank space.

It is an oddity of tourism history (not just in Majorca) that a claim is made for the first all-inclusive facility anywhere having been in Alcudia in 1950. This was the original Club Méditerranée with its army surplus tents on what became known as the French beach. Club Med was basically a campsite. It was a template that was to not stand the test of time.

You have to go back to 1986 to appreciate why there is no official holiday camping in Majorca and only some on the other islands. A Balearic government decree of February 1986 established the regulations. These covered aspects that would have been expected, e.g. electricity and water supplies and waste management, but perhaps crucially there was a period of just three years during which there could be authorisation for camping of what was defined as a “luxury and first-class” character. The decree didn’t make camping untenable, but it certainly didn’t make it a particularly attractive business proposition, especially when there were other business possibilities - there was to be a burst of further hotel building.

Since 1986, there has been no end of further regulation - territorial plans being just part of this regulation. Town halls have their planning and their permissions or refusals. Land classification is a minefield of goalposts potentially being moved from urban developable to rustic totally not developable. It’s hardly worth anyone’s while contemplating a camping project, and yet away from the Balearics, camping is a genuine element of the accommodation and holiday mix. The June figures highlighted this, and one only has to consider the proliferation of good quality camping in Catalonia and Alicante to recognise its value.

I am not alone in believing that Majorca should have a camping offer, and the virus has merely reinforced the potential benefit. But it won’t happen; I’m sure it won’t happen. Camping can coexist with hotels in Catalonia, but not here.